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Democratic culture and the 2019 general elections in Nigeria (2)

Douglas Anele

Certain actions of President Muhammadu Buhari and his diehard party loyalists before the February elections indicate that he and APC stalwarts generally were not really committed to credible elections that would actually reflect the wishes of voters and to post-election litigation processes devoid of manipulation using the power of incumbency. One of such actions is his deliberate delay and serial rejection of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 which, according to most analysts, could have consolidated the modest improvements in the electoral process achieved since 2015.

The main addition to the rejected bill which differentiates it from the 2015 Electoral Act currently in use is the legal backing for INEC to enforce the use of card readers and electronic technology in elections. Initially, the President refused to sign the bill citing drafting errors. But after the National Assembly submitted an improved copy on the fourth occasion, Buhari still turned it down on the ground that there is an international protocol that warns against implementing a new electoral law less than six months before a general election because it would create confusion.

Now, although the National Assembly must be blamed for not doing its homework well before presenting the amendment to Buhari in the first instance, a compelling case can be made that the rejection is another classic example of the President’s Machiavellian strategy of cherry-picking laws and conventions that serve his personal interests and ignoring the ones that do not. For example, his administration is notorious for disregarding unfavourable judgements against it by Nigerian and ECOWAS courts, enforcing those favourable to the federal government and shielding members of the so-called cabal who made his electoral victory in 2015 possible.

After all, former President Goodluck Jonathan signed the 2015 Electoral Amendment Bill on March 20, 2015, less than two weeks before the general elections and it did not cause any serious problem. So, President Buhari’s excuses for refusing assent, his critics argue, are untenable. Rather they point out that he probably was afraid of losing if the use of card readers was made mandatory for the presidential election. Remember that in 2015 when smart card readers were introduced, the bulk of his votes from the north (according to some media reports up to 73%) were not captured by card readers.

Consequently, compulsory use of the device might lead to his defeat in this year’s election and also confirm the suspicion that a huge chunk of the millions of votes credited to him all this while particularly in the north had been fictitious, thereby putting a serious question mark or dent on the legitimacy of his victory four years ago. On post-presidential election litigation, the tardy and hasty manner Justice Walter Onoghen, former Chief Justice of the federation, was humiliated out of office without due process close to the election and “sharia-compliant” Justice Tanko Mohammed appointed in his stead, again without due process, tends to suggest that President Buhari and his core advisers had already calculated that the final outcome of the polls might be settled ultimately at the Supreme Court. To pre-empt such a situation, it is expedient to remove Onoghen and appoint a Chief Justice who is expected to be loyal to the President.

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Now, if Atiku Abubakar loses at the apex court, the neutrality of Justice Mohammed could legitimately be questioned by the PDP and other interested parties in the case. Justice cannot be truly served if one of the parties involved in a legal tussle doubts ab initio the neutrality of the person heading the court where his or her matter is being adjudicated. The lesson here is simple and straightforward: no matter the reason, arbitrariness and impunity are radioactive to the smooth functioning of democracy and should be avoided.

Judging by the results released by INEC which purportedly showed that Buhari has been re-elected with 15,119,847 votes as against Atiku Abubakar’s 11,262,978 votes, it was clear that President Buhari’s strategic calculation worked: he won heavily in the north and most of the votes he got there did not pass through smart card readers. For me and other discerning Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike, the results are at odds with what is referred to as rational decision-making in game theory because Buhari’s victory is at odds with what is expected of rational actors in the electoral process.

It means that majority of voters endorsed his mediocre performance in the last four years instead of voting him out to teach politicians the hard lesson that Nigerians can no longer tolerate mediocrity or “business as usual” from their leaders. Not surprisingly, PDP the main opposition party and some members of civil society organisations have alleged that INEC officials colluded with the APC to rig the presidential election in favour of Buhari. If that is true, one can argue validly that on moral grounds Buhari’s continuation in office beyond May 29, 2019 is illegitimate, a further corroboration of my thesis that Nigeria’s democracy is in a life support machine.

But assuming that Buhari won based on actual votes cast, not on electoral manipulation, it means that majority of the voters are still in the dark ages politically by not understanding let alone acting on the idea that one of the most effective ways of improving our democracy, of instilling a healthy dose of respect and fear of “people’s power” in politicians is by ignoring ethnicity, religion, gender and other irrelevant criteria in making electoral decisions and routinely voting out those that performed far below expectation, as President Buhari and his cohorts have since 2015. In my opinion, the major positive effect from PDP’s loss of power in 2015 is the precedent its sets that an incumbent President can lose election in Nigeria, a lesson that would have been more potent if Buhari had lost this year.

Having said that, as one of the millions of Nigerians battling daily to make ends meet in an increasingly inclement environment resulting largely from the self-indulgent and negative triumphalist mediocrity of the last four years by the APC leadership, I think it is a mistake to re-elect President Buhari. Of course, some modest achievements have been made since Buhari became President – this is also true of the much-inveighed regime of late Gen. Sani Abacha – but the achievements pale into insignificance when compared item by item with APC’s manifesto and the promises Buhari made during the 2015 presidential electioneering campaigns. Given that Nigerians in general are intellectually lazy and lacking in political discernment, most of those that voted for Buhari in February 23 never seriously asked themselves the following questions before voting: To what extent has President Buhari fulfilled his lofty 2015 campaign promises? Has the living condition of the masses really improved since he assumed power?

What has been the situation of our economy, security and fight against corruption in the last four years? Now, I am aware that criticising Buhari and some of his fanatic supporters in high places is potentially dangerous. Still, it is necessary to tell Nigerian leaders the truth in spite of the personal risks involved and the garrulous sugar-coated insipidities of sycophants benefiting presently from the Hobbesian state of nature Nigeria is steadily descending into as a result of poor leadership, coupled with the atrocities committed by Boko Haram terrorists and so-called Fulani herdsmen. To really grasp or understand the country’s perilous existential situation, one should read George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Although Orwell’s interesting novel is a satire about communist countries particularly the defunct Soviet Union, the book captures precisely what is happening these days in Nigeria between the ruling cabal in APCand their praise-singers, on the one hand, and the suffering masses, on the other.

Let us now examine the reasons why some Nigerians believe that the presidential election was rigged, manipulated, or doctored to ensure President Buhari is re-elected. One of the arguments is that given the shoddy performance of his government and the unimpressive one-stop campaigns in selected cities across the country by Buhari himself, the odds in favour of his victory, let alone wining with a wider margin, were considerably lower this year than they were in 2015. Now, we have already made it clear that based on the presumption of rationality the voters should have rejected the President given his incompetent handling of the country.

On the issue of quality of campaign, one must consider the extent PDP’s Atiku Abubakar and his supporters were able to market his candidacy to the electorate while simultaneously de-marketing Buhari. Without a doubt, it is difficult to reach a definitive judgement here because there is no reliable data showing the extent to which campaign performance determines the electoral choices of Nigerian voters. Be that as it may, President Buhari’s blunders, stumbles, and glaring memory lapses while campaigning in Kogi, Kaduna, Delta, and Cross River states among others, his decidedly below average performance during an interview session with the closet Buharist, Kadaria Ahmed, and decision not to participate in the presidential debate scheduled for Saturday, January 19, 2019 – all this demonstrates that Buhari could not have won if the quality of campaigns is an important factor in determining electoral outcomes in Nigeria.

 

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